Dancing with the Stars Contestants Talk to BET.com

Gladys Knight, Sherri Shepherd, Jaleel White, Donald Driver and Roshon Fegan, straight from the ballroom.

Posted: 03/21/2012 08:00 AM EDT
Gladys Knight, Sherri Shepherd, Jaleel White, Donald Driver and Roshon Fegan, dancing with the stars

The 14th season of Dancing with the Stars got off to a fantastic start on Monday night, with judge Len Goodman declaring it “the best first show of any season.” Jaleel White tied for the top spot (with classical singer Katherine Jenkins), earning a 26 out of 30, while Sherri Shepherd, Gladys Knight and Roshon Fegan all scored 23 and Donald Driver got a 21 from the judges.  After the show, the contestants gathered in the ballroom to talk to the media.

 

“You take it week by week, that’s all you can do, and hope that people love you and vote for you,” Knight said, noting that she’d never thought about doing Dancing until her friend Niecy Nash, who was in the audience, encouraged her to sign up. “She’s a big reason that I did this.”  With her crowd-pleasing cha-cha-cha to The Emotions' “Best of My Love” under her belt, Knight is focusing on learning the quickstep with “very patient” partner Tristan McManus and plans to mobilize her fans via Twitter to support and vote for her. “We’re holding Dancing with the Stars parties at our restaurants,” noted the Empress of Soul, who owns a chain of chicken and waffles eateries. Her new album, the aptly titled Another Journey, drops in April.

 

“I’m exhausted and amazed and excited. I feel blessed to be here. I’m living the dream,” gushed Shepherd, smiling as wide as she did during her fox trot to “Sherry.” She’ll be commuting to New York to do The View while her husband Sal and son Jeffrey remain in Los Angeles. “None of it feels like work, because I love it,” she said, noting that she’ll also try to work out taping new episodes of The Newlywed Game, which she hosts for GSN. She was surprised to find herself at the center of controversy last week and reiterated that she didn’t break the no-early-rehearsal rule. “Tonight was the result of us working really hard,” she said. She’ll continue to do so in preparation for the jive next week. “We’re facing the fact that I have not one ounce of stamina, and it’s 90 seconds of pure cardio.”

 

White, who danced last, had no idea of the standings because he intentionally didn’t watch all the routines. “It was getting to the point where seeing the scores put too much pressure on me,” he explained, so he was surprised to find out he was at the top of the heap. Now he has to put in “more treadmill time” to prepare for the jive, but isn’t keen on busting out Urkel-esque suspenders. “What, are you crazy?” he laughed.

 

Football players have won DWTS twice, but Green Bay Packers star Driver said he’s not following in Emmitt Smith’s or Hines Ward’s footsteps. “I gotta follow in my own, and make sure I do my job well,” he explained, acknowledging that his athletic background does provide an edge. “He’s used to taking directions,” added partner Peta Murgatroyd, although he’s “pigeon-toed and has no turnout whatsoever.” The father of three kids aims to set a good example on the dance floor. “If they see what I can do and do it well, they’re not going to be afraid to try things,” he said, adding that he got some advice from ex-contestant Chaz Bono: “Don’t talk back to the judges, and have great posture.”

 

“My motto is no matter what I’m here to have fun. I realize that this is not a job, this is more a blessing than anything and I’m just taking it every day at a time,” said Disney Channel star and youngest competitor Fegan, whose hip hop-flavored cha-cha wowed the crowd, if not judge Goodman.  If his fame widens beyond the kid set, that’s a bonus. “This is one of the biggest platforms in the world,” he said. “It’s going to bring me into households in a whole new light.”

 

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(Photos: Courtesy ABC)

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